Insanity regarding gender and race

Two stories on one page of the Philadelphia Inquirer led me to question my sanity.

Wait — actually the sanity of America, because these two stories simply could not have existed through most of the long span of my life.

In one, the Perkiomen Valley school board is struggling to come up with a bathroom policy. The only bathroom policy I faced during decades in school was whether students could get away with smoking cigarettes in there.

Now, schools across America wrestle with how to handle the almost none transgender students. I will return to that topic in a moment.

The other story concerns an activist, and perhaps leader, in the queer/Muslim/person of color community.  That is Raquel Saraswati, who is accused of passing herself off as something she is not — a person of color. Not is she the first person to be accused of doing so. Rachel Dolezal, who was a white person who managed to get herself elected president of the Spokane, Wash., local NAACP chapter at least partly on her false claim of being Black.

Through much of my life, the usual thing was for Black people to try and pass for white, because of discrimination against Black people.

Dolezal also claimed Native American heritage, as did Sen. Elizabeth (Pocahontas)  Warren, who made some ridiculous comment about high cheekbones.

Over the Affirmative Action years, which now may be drawing to a close, I know many whites tried to inject some color into their resumes, as other students tried to claim scholarships set aside for certain affinity groups, such as children of military, members of the Knights of Columbus, even left-handed students. 

Now, especially since the George Floyd riots, there is even a certain cachet to being Black, as you can see in the remarkable number of TV commercials that feature Black actors. That is not a complaint, it is an observation, as is the large number of interracial families depicted in TV commercials.

I used to be a TV critic, and learned that TV does two distinct things — mostly it reflects society, but when not reflecting, it is leading society. It is able to do that because it is the only medium that reaches all of America — more than newspapers, more than radio, more than recording and film, more even than the internet.

It is a powerful voice with a powerful message, even when the message is not conscious.

TV commercials normalize what we see on the screen. So for most of its lifespan all we saw were white actors in commercials — and in shows — that was normal. Now, by their inclusion, Black actors (even Black networks) are normal, and that is another marker of how much things have changed in America.

For the good.

Let’s go back to the schools. 

I met, and wrote about, transexual women in two columns in 2016, and the stats at that time reported nonbinary trans people represented about 0.7% of the population.  That is 7/10ths of 1%.

Now, you can’t throw a hat without hitting one.

The first trans person to get media attention was Christine Jorgensen, an American male G.I. who went to Denmark for a sex-change operation in 1952, and became a sensation.

It was a sensation, but an aberration, a one-off, everyone thought.

Everything was quiet on that front for two decades, until 1976 when Renee Richards, formerly a male Opthamologist, tried to compete in the U.S. Open as a female.  

OK, that’s two — but that’s it!

Until — oops, Bruce Jenner emerged from the closet cocoon in 2015 as Caitlyn Jenner. That knocked down any remaining restraints and being nonbinary became as popular as pumpkin spice flavor in the fall.

Now, there is a reported explosion of nonbinary membership among Gen Z. Is it biology, psychology, or pressure from teachers and peers? I don’t know, I reported in a column.

It doesn’t matter if the students are actually nonbinary, or just believe they are, the issue gets dumped on the schools, and the renaming or rehabbing of bathrooms.

This won’t be resolved for a long time.

In a related story, one can ask that if you can change your gender because of how you feel, why not be able to change your race?

That is part of the explanation offered by Saraswati, who 

was the former “chief equity, inclusion and culture officer” of the American Friends Service Committee. A couple of AFSC colleagues dug into Saraswati’s past, found she is of German and Italian heritage, she had changed birth name to Saraswati to seem more. . . whatever, and Saraswati’s own mother said, “I’m as white as the driven snow and so is she.” 

In a news release, Saraswati said, “We are each the experts on our own lives. Anonymous, troubled, or unscrupulous individuals are not. . . Sadly, this extends to some biological and non-biological family members, including my own mother.”

She produced some testimony from her dermatologist to the effect that she had a darker skin tone, which geneticists said was questionable as an indicator of race.

She said she had taken DNA tests by three leading companies but would not name them. A clear red flag. She said she “was raised in the false and inconsistent narratives regarding my biology and [I] had to find that truth on my own.”

In a key passage in the handout, she said it was her “God-given right to pursue, embrace, and celebrate the truth of my personhood.”

In other words, eff the DNA, I am the one who decides who l am.

There’s a slight difference between the two stories.

We are free to reject the racial claims, but are supposed to genuflect to the gender ones.

And so, I question our sanity.

12 thoughts on “Insanity regarding gender and race”

  1. I’ve decided I am a 6’10” black guy. I want to go to the NBA and make millions. You gotta problem with that?

  2. I don’t know who comes across this stuff in everyday life. I certainly don’t. And I am happy to see people be what ever they want to be. However, you really can’t change who you actually are physically. DNA is DNA.

    1. And sometimes “stupid” is part of that DNA profile as well. And we all know you can’t fix stupid.

    2. And it takes two XX chromosomes to be female, so why did we pretend those with XY are demakem when science says they are not?
      Does it impact my life? Only to the extent that truth, logic and science do.

      1. Truth, logic, and science have been twisted so out of shape we find ourselves being sold the most outrageous fiction as fact.

  3. If someone of a different gender follows my grandaughter into the ladies room, one of us is coming out the corrected gender.

  4. For me, the gender claims are more defensible–though I think they may be overstated–because in many cases they have more scientific and legal heft.

    I come at this, in part, from the legal history standpoint in how the law has dealt with sexually ambiguous individuals. The clearest cases revolve around the “true hermaphrodite”–that is, someone who has the visible, functioning equipment of both sexes. (Such folks have become pregnant and had children, and, more rarely, fathered children). Both Roman law and the English Common Law had to deal with this issue because inheritance rights were determined by sex. (Often such babies were murdered at birth as monsters, but some survived). The famous 17th century English jurist Lord Coke wrote: “Every heire is either a male, a female, or an hermaphrodite, that is both male and female. And an hermaphrodite (which is also called Androgynus) shall be heire, either as male or female, according to that kind of sexe which doth prevaile.” In other words, the law recognized these people as whichever sex they ultimately “identified” themselves to be.

    Except for the murdering part, modern times became less open-minded. Apparently figuring “six of one, half a dozen of the other” these infants were generally given very early sex assignment surgery to make them solely female, because, er (crossing legs), that surgery was easier because it’s external. That was before the 2013 case of M.C. v. Aaronson, where an infant in the care of the South Carolina Department of Social Services was first assigned male, and then changed to female on the birth certificate. While doctors had initially counseled waiting, they went ahead and did the deed. By the time he/she was 8 years old, however, MC felt and acted like boy, and was suffering emotionally from being forced to be a girl. “They” sued, and while the courts found no constitutional violation (“qualified immunity” i.e., docs couldn’t know they were violating a constitutional right), the suit went forward in state court as malpractice, and was eventually settled for $440,000, so there was no verdict or court decision.

    Now, the numbers I’ve seen say there are only a bit over 500 “true hermaphrodites” in the country, and “corrective” sex surgeries of only 0.1 – 0.2% of births. But there is a much larger population with physiologically “ambiguous” sexuality, currently called “intersex” (the “I” in LGBTQIA), apparently about 1-2% of the population. (lowest I saw was 1.2%, highest 2%) Canada says 1.7% of births. (By comparison, Jews are about 2.6%, and redheads, 2%).

    According to WebMD, “Intersex can occur in around 40 different ways” so it’s not just one thing. It can be genetic (e.g. having a “mosaic” of XX and XY chromosomes) or gestational (e.g. non-development of testes) or congenital (resistance to hormones or too many hormones of the opposite sex). For instance, a person with XY chromosomes whose testes do not develop, will look exactly like a baby girl, and that is what goes on the birth certificate. (Sorry guys–female is the genetic “default”–why do ya think y’all got nipples?) Pre-genetic testing, they’d have never known they weren’t a woman, and many lived entire lives without knowing. Who knows how many “barren women” back in the day were actually guys?(no ovaries). This is called Swyer Syndrome. Often they have a womb in addition to the more external equipment, which means they can have kids through in vitro fertilization.
    So, can a person with an XY chromosome bear a child? The scientific answer is yes. Does every person with XY chromosomes have “male” on their birth certificate? Not historically.

    So, to start with, there are a substantial number of people who are visibly and/or biologically “non-binary.” It is a physical reality. But what about those folks without these physical manifestations?

    It seems plausible to me that if the physical stuff can get that mixed up, that more subtle stuff, like brain structures may be also have have such “real” effects. According to some researchers, the same things that cause intersex conditions “can affect brain chemistry and the way a person associates with his/her physiological sex or personifies his/her gender behaviorally.” So, it seems likely to me that there at least some number of trans people are correct in that they “were born this way.”

    On the other hand, as with any medical/physical condition, it seems to me that misdiagnosis can have devastating results, and there’s always been, for whatever reason, hypochondria where people actually believe they have a physical problem, when there is not. There is anecdotal evidence from individuals both of the “life-saving” effect of “gender-affirming” transitions, and the awful results for folks who were “pressured” into such care, when they were really suffering from psychological ailments. To me, basic respect and our more general experience with medical care, means that we can’t dismiss one category or another of these testimonies out of hand as crazy or fabricated–especially because they are not mutually exclusive.

    Stu’s concern seems to be that the increasing normalization and even celebration of folks who merely need declare their “identity” to be entitled to “all the privileges and immunities appurtenant thereto” tends to denigrate reality, and is, therefore “insanity.”

    But, it seems the increasing number of folks “identifying” as non-binary actually arises, at least in part, from environmental rather than social sources.
    According to this peer-reviewed paper “An increasing number of children are born with intersex variation (IV; ambiguous genitalia/hermaphrodite, pseudohermaphroditism, etc.). Evidence shows that endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in the environment can cause reproductive variation through dysregulation of normal reproductive tissue differentiation, growth, and maturation if the fetus is exposed to EDCs during critical developmental times in utero.”

    The authors note: (1) Animal studies show embryos exhibited intersex variation when exposed to EDCs. (2) Occupational studies verified higher prevalence of offspring with intersex variation in chemically exposed workers and (3) studies show increasing “genital anomalies” in the population, and (4) as I quote above, these chemicals can also have effects on brain structure causing “gender disphoria” i.e. having a different gender identity than one presents physically.

    In other words, part of the “normalization” of “non-binary” folk may be driven by the fact that are just a lot more of them today than in previous generations. (The story with asthma is much the same–because of environmental factors, way more people have it today than previous generations.)

    On the other hand, as my mother was fond of saying, “nothing is unmixed.” That fact does not rule out a “bandwagon” effect sweeping up more than those with a legitimate complaint. What we need are rigorous medical standards to determine the existence of the issue, not sweeping pronouncements one way or the other. In other words, “trust, but verify.”

    So, Stu, I disagree that it is equal insanity to “identify” as non-binary or a particular gender and to make up one’s genetic heritage. Once has a reasonable factual (and I expect an ultimately conclusively verifiable as science advances) claim, while the other does not. That does not mean there are no fakers or posers–just that there IS a difference.

    1. As usual, you give me a lot to think about, especially on the XX, XY info. I will think about that.
      Yes, there are hermophrodites, and we can SEE what makes them so. We can’t “see” gender fluidity.
      You cite environmental factors as a possible cause for change. Possible, but we have ALWAYS had environmental factors, much worse than today. I question the low 1-2% number cited, but I draw your attention to this column in which 38% of Brown students claim to not be straight, double from 2010. That means by 2035, 76% will not be straight. The numbers were higher at, Harvard, I think. Bosh.

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